Fifty years ago, when most chauffeurs were employed by wealthy families to drive and care for their private limousines, the profession enjoyed a reputation for competence, dignity and discretion. Competition was keen for the desirable chauffeuring positions offered by these private employers, and a chauffeur who was fortunate enough to have a good job usually thought of it as a career. Competition for good chauffeuring positions begat a high level of professionalism that required training; experience and a willingness to meet the needs of the employer.
Some operators who recall the standards of this period are struggling to preserve a high level of chauffeur “professionalism” in today’s era of industry expansion and diversification. Although it may be debated that the current market of private and corporate individuals is less discerning than “the upper crust passengers of fifty years of age, some services feel that there will always be a demand for the highest level of service that a chauffeur can offer.
What does “professionalism” really mean in chauffeuring? What kind of training and aptitudes are required of chauffeurs? What are some of the shortcoming typical of chauffeurs in the industry today? Limousine & Chauffeur invited a small number of experienced chauffeurs and chauffeur trainers to participate in a “Panel of Experts” to discuss the answers to such questions.
Members of the panel are: Eva Marie Bartman of VIP Limousine Service, Farmington Hills, MI; Jim Bruce of Sunset Limousine in Van Nuys, CA; Michael Huffman of Chauffeur America Training Seminars in Napa, CA; Lon Kaufmann of Lon’s Limo Scene in Santa Rosa, CA; Jan Korkames of Limousines By Jan in Dallas; Jim Michalsky of JSM Carriage in Anaheim, CA.; Gene Newton of Limousines Ltd. in Milwaukee, WI.; and Sherrie Van Vliet of Executive Chauffeuring School in Palos Verdes, CA.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What kind of training should be given before a chauffeur does their first run?
Michael Huffman: A chauffeur needs complete training with both classroom instruction and hands-on experience. This should be a number one priority with each service. New chauffeurs should be taught people skills, as well as all aspects of proper etiquette.
Eva Marie Bartman: A chauffeur’s training should cover many different subjects. First of all, a service should have a job description for chauffeurs so they know what is expected of them. They should also know the company’s basic office procedures and how to fill out paperwork. Handling of clients is another important subject. They should know the company’s dress code, and should be familiar with the office equipment, the radio, pagers, and credit card machine.
Knowing the vehicle is very important and a new driver should have behind-the-wheel training without a client in the car. It is a good idea to take a new driver through all of the chauffeuring procedures from start to finish.
Jim Michalsky: Training of new chauffeurs should begin with a thorough walk-through of each and every car in the fleet so that they can see where everything is located and how it works. This should include checking under the hood as well as around the car. A checklist should be provided to show drivers what should be done before every run.
A chauffeur should also get a complete walk-through of all the paperwork used by a company. Chauffeurs should have a thorough understanding of the information on a company’s run sheet so that they know what a customer expects.
I think chauffeurs should also receive CPR and basic first aid training. I would also like to see all chauffeurs in the industry complete a certified driving school like the Bob Bondurant school.
Lon Kaufmann: The most important thing in training new people is for them to have a thorough knowledge of clients and their preferences. Equally important is knowledge of the geographic area and potential itineraries. The next most important area of training is proper grooming and the need for a dignified manner.
Gene Newton: It is important to be neat and clean. Chauffeurs should be trained not to start or stop the car too fast. A chauffeur should always get out and open a customer’s door, even if they say you don’t have to. Another thing is that a chauffeur should always wear a cap.
Jim Bruce: A chauffeur must know the geographic area, including about three hundred of the major streets in the area. In our company, a chauffeur must have a uniform, memorize our manual, and go out on the road with an instructor for a total of three weeks. Then they are given a driving evaluation.
Sherrie Van Vliet: Because the livery service is responsible for its chauffeur’s actions, it is extremely important that a new chauffeur be trained on his duties, dress, proper etiquette, legal issues, and responsibilities. Along with this should be extensive driving training and training in vehicle maintenance. Chauffeurs should take time to learn the frequently visited parts of their service area. Importance should be placed on projecting a “professional” image at all times, and making sure clients are given VIP treatment at all times.
Jan Korkames: Many new chauffeurs simply don’t know how to provide “professional” service to customers. Some kind of formal training is important.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What distinguishes an “exceptional” chauffeur from an “average” one?
Sherrie Van Vliet: An “exceptional” chauffeur will anticipate the needs of their clients and fulfill them before a client has requested it. Being quick to open the proper door and stand straight and tall awaiting your client’s arrival projects professionalism and distinguishes great chauffeurs from the average ones. The chauffeur’s attitude and eagerness to serve is the key to success in this profession. A great chauffeur enjoys serving and takes pride in his work.
Jan Korkames: Anticipation is the main thing that distinguishes an “exceptional” chauffeur. You need to be prepared for anything that could possibly happen.
Jim Bruce: In the mind of an “exceptional” chauffeur, the client is the number one concern. Company loyalty, and self-esteem are also very strong among “exceptional” chauffeurs.
Gene Newton: I feel that personality is the key to an “exceptional” chauffeur. A person needs to know how to act like a chauffeur. They need to know when to talk and when not to. An “exceptional” chauffeur should be kind and considerate.
Lon Kaufmann: “Average” drivers just go from point A to point B. An “exceptional” chauffeur attends to the needs of their clients in every detail during a run.
Jim Michalsky: An “exceptional” driver always does more than simply what is expected of him.
Eva Marie Bartman: Keeping a car clean between stops is one of the things that separates “exceptional” chauffeurs from “average” ones.
There are a number of other things such as anticipating a client’s needs, explaining the amenities in the vehicle to clients, using perfect etiquette, knowing your bellmen and maitre’ds, helping make reservations by phoning ahead, confirming a run before leaving the garage, anticipating traffic and weather conditions in order to arrive early (not just on time), having the vehicle ready for a client at a moment’s notice, walking clients to the door, and having things in the vehicle like: a newspaper, ice, soft drinks, coffee, roses for the ladies.
Michael Huffman: “Exceptional” chauffeurs always strive to please clients. They are looking to learn more. Chauffeurs must be teachable, willing to serve customers, and have a good appearance.
Limousine & Chauffeur: How much time should a chauffeur spend preparing a car before a run, and what should be done?
Mike Huffman: You should spend as much time as it takes to make every detail right. If you don’t take enough time, you’re liable to look very unprofessional.
Eva Marie Bartman: Our vehicles are gassed and ready to go. Our chauffeurs allow thirty minutes to double check for clean glasses, carpeting, windows and ashtrays. A driver should also stock the car with items such as napkins, ice, matches, a newspaper, soft drinks, water, corkscrew, bottle opener, and a credit card machine.
Jan Korkames: I also think it should take about thirty minutes to go through a checklist and see that the limousine is clean and stocked. You also to allow for last minute grooming.
Lon Kaufmann: The length of preparation depends on the general condition of the car after the previous job (rice, dirt roads, etc.). A chauffeur should thoroughly check the entire interior and exterior.
Gene Newton: If the car is already washed, it should take about a half hour to make sure that the glasses, carpeting and ashtrays are clean.
Jim Bruce: I think a chauffeur should start preparing a car an hour and a half before a run taking into consideration that you want to arrive at least twenty minutes early for the pick-up. You need to check out the car, stock it, go over the route, and be able to drive slowly and carefully on the way to the pick-up.
Sherrie Van Vliet: In addition to cleaning the car inside and out, a chauffeur should check under the hood, use an air freshener such as Ozium, and check to make sure the air conditioner, television, moon-roof and other accessories are working.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What are some common mistakes made by chauffeurs?
Sherrie Van Vliet: Lack of proper presentation and professional dress are the two biggest mistakes chauffeurs make. Because a chauffeur does not speak much, he is judged and treated according to how he presents himself. A well groomed, polished chauffeur in proper attire will be viewed professionally and a client will request a “professional” chauffeur, rather than an average one, when using a limousine.
A service will be as good as their chauffeurs. Being professional and courteous is what builds a clientele.
Eva Marie Bartman: Among the mistakes I see are chauffeurs not smiling and being polite, chauffeurs locking their keys in the car, forgetting to check for customers’ personal belongings left in the vehicle, not locking the doors, not taking time to map out the directions before leaving the garage, not checking on flight arrivals, not using the radio or pager properly, and not checking in and out with the office.
Lon Kaufmann: I think there is a lack of etiquette. You see things such as chauffeurs talking when they are not spoken to, and lounging in the back of a car while waiting for a client. A lack of discretion on the part of a chauffeur is disaster.
Gene Newton: Chauffeurs sometimes talk too much and do not clean the ashtrays while they are waiting for clients. They also sometimes refuse to dress neatly and wear a cap. Not arriving on time is also a problem.
Jim Bruce: Some common mistakes are speeding, dope, poor preparation, poor grooming, and bad driving habits.
Jan Korkames: Collections is one problem area for many chauffeurs. Another common problem is a lack of discipline among chauffeurs in cleaning up a car after a run.
Michael Huffman: Smoking in a car while on a charter is one mistake. Another is not wearing the right color three-piece suit. Some chauffeurs don’t even understand such basic parts of the job as smiling and being pleasant.
Limousine & Chauffeur: How can a chauffeur help bring in business?
Eva Marie Bartman: Some ways of building business are to pass out business cards, send a “Thank you” card after a run, ask for a return pickup on an airport run, ask for referrals, be professional and well groomed, ask clients for a business card so that the office can follow-up for future business.
Sherrie Van Vliet: Because the livery owner takes all of the financial risks, the very least a chauffeur should offer is free public relations. The chauffeur should be handing out business cards and promoting the service at every opportunity. Clients view the success of a livery service by the chauffeur’s actions and appearance. The owner is very seldom seen and the client only meets the chauffeur. A chauffeur can also help by going to functions in the area and introducing people to the service.
Michael Huffman: The best way for a chauffeur to build business is to simply be pleasant and professional. Be a “people person.” Make sure the client is taken care of and hand out business cards when it is appropriate.
Jan Korkames: Word of mouth is the most important thing in building business, and the only way to increase that is to render superior service. A chauffeur is bound to help build business if they are simply the BEST!